04 Jan 2013

The Dell Precision line now has a new design, coupled with Sandy Bridge-E making for an interesting combination.  In the home builder world, Sandy Bridge-E isn't a first choice for hardcore enthusiasts, but for workstations in the Enterprise it has its place and does well.  The Dell Precision line can handle Xeon processors ranging from quad-core to six-core CPU's.  As of 02/11/2013 I've updated the article with some info and screenshots related to the running temperature of the CPU.  See below for more info.

At a Glance
Pros Solid design, stellar performance, quiet operation, RMT memory protection, SATA III, USB 3.0, SAS
Cons Cost, fewer 5.25" bay options than in past

 Introduction

Pre-configured options also include “workstation class” AMD and NVIDIA choices for video cards, though in this particular review I am using the ATI 5750 as a baseline for my tests.

 Dell Precision T3600 Specifications

 

Chassis

Dell Custom

Processor Tested

Intel Xeon E5-1650
(Six Core 3.2GHz + HTT, 32nm, 15MB L3, 130W)

Motherboard

C600 Chipset

Graphics

*XFX ATI 7750 1GB FX775AZNP4

Memory

*Kingston 4x4GB NECC DDR3-1600 KHX1600C9D3K4/16GX (max 4x16GB) which defaults to 1333 MHz  (configured with the minimal RAM from Dell)

Hard Drive

1x Seagate 7200 RPM 16MB 1TB Sata 6.0 Gb/s

Optical Drive

HL-DT-ST Slimline DVD-RAM

Media Drive

5.25” 19-in-1 media card reader

Power Supply

Dell Custom 80 Plus Gold 635 Watt / tool-free removal

Networking

Intel 82579LM Gigabit Ethernet

Audio

Realtek ALC269
Speaker and mic/line-in jacks

Ports (Internal)

3 – USB 2.0

2 – SATA 6.0 Gb/s

Ports (Front)

Optical drive
3x USB 2.0
1x USB 3.0
Headphone and mic jacks
BIOS indicator lights

Ports (Back)

Speaker and mic/line-in jacks
Serial port
5x USB 2.0
1x USB 3.0
Ethernet jack

1x 1394a (optionally added)
PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports

Operating System

Windows 8 x64 Enterprise RTM (not provided by Dell)

Extras

SAS drive bays
Dell RMT technology
Intel vPro

Warranty

3-year parts and 3-year on-site service

Pricing

Starting at: $1,099
Price as configured: $1728
*Add $266 for the ATI video card and 16GB ram purchased outside of Dell

The mainboard supports up to 64GB of memory arranged in a quad-channel configuration.  Therefore, it’s ideal to buy memory in sets of four for this system, for optimal performance.  In purchasing a machine from Dell, it’s often a better and far cheaper bet, to configure it with as little RAM as they will allow, then buy the RAM separately for much less, assuming you are a builder and don’t mind cracking the case to install the correct RAM.

Dell has a technology referred to as RMT which will be useful if you install ECC memory or buy the ECC memory from Dell.  RMT adds another layer of protection to already protected ECC memory.  RMT will determine where there is a page fault in memory and then prevent the system from using that memory page on the next reboot.  After seven plus faults, it recommends you to replace the stick of memory.

For this review and machine it came with a SATA 6.0 Gb/s hard drive.  It was tested on the Perc H310 controller card which comes with the machine.  This leaves two ports on the motherboard for other SATA devices, as well as one more port on the H310 card.  The motherboard has more than two SATA ports but those are not “enabled” or “activated” in the current bios version.  Dell may provide a bios upgrade to “activate” those extra SATA ports in the future.  Note that in my machine's internal configuration, Dell had the H310 card in the extra PCIex16 slot.  I moved it to the free PCIex8 slot instead to free up the other slot for a future video card.

Design

The tower has two aluminum handles for ease when carrying.  You can also take the top off and rack mount it as well.  The unit has airflow that is front to back with large coolers on the processor.

 

The case features a screwless entry allowing for quick access to the internals.

The interior is well designed.  It features toolless back plates for add-on boards and the drive bays and PSU are also toolless.  The PSU can be pulled out and a new one inserted.

The downside to this model is that Dell has opted to offer less in the way of 5.25" bays, perhaps thinking the days of optical drives are coming to an end.  You can have the unit pre-installed with a slimline optical and use the bay for their removable memory card reader or a hard drive instead.

Dell has a technology they patented called RMT, short for Reliable Memory Technology.  It maps and isolates the bad memory pages whenever there is a fault allowing the end user to use the rest of the memory module until seven or more faults, then a replacement is suggested.

The motherboard features onboard SATA ports, in addition to the ones offered on the RAID card.  Only two of those function at this time, pending a possible future Dell Bios upgrade (per their support) that would unlock the others.

The back panel has a good variety of ports including a serial port, which is harder to find these days, but is lacking a parallel port and an e-SATA port.

Here is a look at the BIOS area of the dell. 

The BIOS page showing the two currently active SATA ports on the motherboard.

 There are several Dell Precisions in this line of machines (T1650, T3600, T5600, T7600).  The T1650 is the entry machine, single-socket design.  The T3600 is a step up from this with support for faster GPU's as well as dual GPU's, though still a single socket system.  The T5600 is a dual-socket system with the ability for four DIMM slots per socket.  The T7600 features two sockets and eight DIMM slots per socket and ability to have three PCI Express cards for video.

Performance

First up is the Windows Experience Index.  Again, this system has the ATI 7750 1GB video card.  The bottleneck as usually is the case, is the SATA hard drive here.

Windows Experience (Dell T3600 with Xeon E5-1650 3.2 Ghz)

Here we take a look at the Passmark ratings.  The CPU Mark came in at 12,393 with an overall PassMark rating of 4139.7.  Compare that CPU Mark rating with that of an i7 2600 at its default speed of 3.4 GHz at about 8128 CPU Marks, or the i7 2600 overclocked to 4.8 GHz at 10,964 CPU Marks.  So even at standard clock speeds, the Xeon E5-1650 3.2 Ghz is slightly ahead of the i7 2600 at 4.8 GHz.  (See below for the other system ratings).

Passmark (Dell T3600 with Xeon E5-1650 3.2 Ghz / ATI 7750 1GB)

Even though the T3600 isn't a gaming machine, I still opted for completeness to run 3D benchmarks on the XFX ATI 7750 video card.  I did not run any Directx 11 benchmarks (3DMark11) in this test.

Vantage (Dell T3600 with Xeon E5-1650 3.2 Ghz / ATI 7750 1GB)

 

3DMark06 (Dell T3600 with Xeon E5-1650 3.2 Ghz / ATI 7750 1GB)

And as a side note, these 3D scores were a bit lower than my home machine's ATI 5850 1GB video card.

Comparing the T3600 benchmarks to other systems

Now lets compare the performance to that of another Dell, the XPS 8300 which has the i7 2600 CPU and also the same ATI video card (not the 2600K).  This XPS 8300 had 16 GB of 1600 Mhz capable DDR3 but at 1333 Mhz just like the T3600.

Windows Experience Index (Dell XPS 8300 i7 2600 / ATI 7750 1GB)

Here we see the i7 2600 3.4 GHz CPU's passmark comes in at 8128, about 4,000 less than the Xeon six-core.

Passmark (Dell XPS 8300 i7 2600 / ATI 7750 1GB)

Finally, we could take this one step farther and compare the performance via the Passmark test with that of an overclocked i7 2600K, running at 4.8 Ghz as below, this being my home custom built machine with the ATI 5850 GPU. 

Passmark (Custom i7 2600k at 4.8 Ghz / ATI 5850 / DDR3 at 1600Mhz)

If you look at the Nvidia Quadro 4000 that Dell offers in the T3600, you would also find that it is probably one of the fasted workstation class cards that can come with the Dell T3600, most likely with similar 3DMark06 results, or 3DMark11 as well.  Still, in this test case, I chose to opt for the ATI 7750, as for workstation performance it is adequate in most generic cases.

With actual use of the machine I found it to be a very stellar performer with Windows 8 x64 as well as very silent in operation even at higher workloads.  Since Dell built this machine to be whisper quiet, there is a thermal tradeoff.  At heavier loads the CPU can hit 74-79 C in my tests.  Usually on lighter workloads it is only in the mid 60's on average, however.

Heat and Other Issues

I wanted to expand a little in this sub topic to mention some heat issues you may experience.  Not so much an issue per say, as just a general condition with this particular system.  The newer precision uses a passive cooling system, making it whisper quiet, but such low noise comes with a cost in this case.  If you run a popular cpu temperature program such as SpeedFan or CoreTemp, you will find that even at 3% usage on CPU its around 60C, which is much higher than your typical situation that should be closer to 40C or even 45C.  I took it one step further and ran Prime95 with small ffts and found the temp didn't exceed 74C which is fine given the TJMax is 91C.  It's not typical to run a system at 100% cpu utilization, so for most applications the Precision will be fine.  See the screenshots below for examples.

 

The other issue that another identical system ran into was that the PSU actually failed after only a month of use.  Minor issue considering they are easily swappable and the Dell warranty covers things like this.

Tech-Stew Take Home

Overall, the new Dell T3600 is a solid machine with outstanding performance.  Its physical design is superb, minus a few of the drawbacks like fewer external bays than past machines.  It certainly fits the bill for any company or person seeking a solid performing Xeon workstation class machine in their workplace.  The downside as always with a Dell or "prefab" machine is the higher cost than building one yourself.  However, you get the standard 3 year on-site warranty that provides you with pretty responsive Dell service.  The T3600 also lacks an e-SATA port, but adding a PCIe card inside the unit is a simple way to solve this issue, given the ample slots available inside.  Finally, if you add an SSD drive as your main operating system drive and you are sure to get an even bigger boost on this performance scale as well.

Performance 9.5 / 10
Design (Style, Ports, Bays) 8.8 / 10
Cost 7.9 / 10
Value 8.9 / 10
Overall 8.7 / 10


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